Standing at the podium, Principal Williams stopped the ceremony.
He held up his hands. “Everyone please be quiet, and stay where you are. We’ve called an ambulance, and they will need the aisles to be clear.”
Not everybody listened. Sean pushed his way out between the aisles of folding chairs, ran across the field, up one of the short stairways, and into the bleachers, joining his family.
I couldn’t blame him for that.
Andy Timmer’s dad stood near them. If I remembered correctly, Andy’s dad was a doctor, but he didn’t have much to work with here.
The setting sun cast long shadows, but I thought I could see blood on the concrete ledge in front of the bleachers even from where I sat.
My League cell phone vibrated. I pulled it out, unlocked the screen, and found a message from Haley, “Going after them.”
I clicked on the GPS to find her position, and the phone showed a dot superimposed on a picture of the stadium.
Looking upward to my left, I saw a small figure that had to be Haley standing at the top row of the bleachers. A taller woman, probably Rachel, jumped from one row to another, catching up to her.
No one was seated anywhere near them. Almost all the parents sat in the lower rows, and in the part of the stadium nearest to the podium. Even though Central High used it for graduation every year, Grand Lake University’s football stadium could hold three times our crowd.
To my relief, Haley didn’t jump off the back. She used the stairway. Rachel followed her, and they both disappeared from sight.
* * *
I didn’t have much experience to guide me, but the crowd that emerged from the stadium felt quieter than a post graduation crowd should.
After Rachel’s graduation, the senior class had thrown their hats into the air as they exited the stadium, and walked down the steps into the parking lot. Ours walked out, and stood in groups to talk, or went straight to their cars.
Five police cars parked in front of the stadium near the main exits. Policemen stood talking to people, and taking notes near the entrance. The banks of lights hanging in the air made it almost as bright as day.
The parking lot looked darker.
News 10 had parked their truck (complete with satellite uplink) near the police cars. The trucks from other local channels were still setting up, but the News 10 reporter and cameraman were interviewing people.
I avoided them.
Near me, Cassie said, “Nick, over there.”
Rachel and Haley stood on a traffic island across from the exits. We crossed the road, and stood next to them.
Cassie, with Kayla next to her, said, “What did you find out?”
Haley frowned. “I couldn’t catch them. I smelled Ray near the exit. I caught his scent outside, but they must have had someone waiting in a car, and they left before I even got out.”
Rachel glanced toward the police and reporters. “I happened to overhear the police interviewing the people sitting behind Sean’s family. Ray walked up in normal clothes, put a gun to the back of Mr. Drucker’s head, shot and ran away.”
Cassie eyed Rachel. “What about the police? They were all over. Didn’t they try to stop him?”
“One of them did. He got shot. They took him away with Sean’s father.”
“But the policeman wasn’t dead,” Haley said. “I heard him talking to the paramedics.”
A woman’s voice said, “Cassie!”
Mrs. Kowalski stood in a knot of parents, including Kayla’s. She waved Cassie over.
Kayla said, “My parents are waving too.”
Cassie sighed. “Kayla’s parents and my mom were going out for dessert tonight. I’d try to get out of it, but what else can we do here? How about tomorrow?”
We all agreed, and they left.
Rachel flicked her eyes between Haley and I. “I’m sure our parents want to leave too. I can stall them if you want a couple minutes alone.”
“Sure,” I said, though between the reporters, the police, and the people standing in the darkened parking lot this barely qualified as alone.
Rachel stepped off the traffic island and disappeared into the crowd of parents and family.
Neither of us said anything for a little while. Then Haley said, “I won’t be able to make the meeting if you have it during the day. I’ve still got school. I’ve got exams next week. I wonder if I’ll even be able to concentrate on studying?”
“I could help. I don’t have anything going next week. Nothing planned anyway.”
“After tonight, I’ve got a feeling we’ll be busy.”
“You’re probably right,” I said.
“And besides, the time we did study together was fun, but we didn’t study very much.”
She had a point.
“I keep on hearing the shot,” Haley said. “It sounded like a gun with silencer. Remember when Lee brought one to practice?”
“I didn’t hear anything.”
“You couldn’t have, but that’s not what I was thinking about. I was thinking about Sydney and Sean. When Sean and I were dating, it was so obvious how much better their lives would have been if their father were decent. Or maybe just… gone.”
She pushed her hair back with her hand.
“I don’t think this is going to make things better,” she said.
I thought back to when Vaughn volunteered to tell Sean about Ray and his team. At the time, it seemed like a possible way to get Sean’s cooperation, but he wouldn’t have tried to take Ray down if we hadn’t.
It wasn’t our fault he’d tried, just like it wasn’t our fault Ray had tried to kill his dad. But could we have predicted it?
“Nick, what’s on your mind?”
“I don’t think this is going to make things better either.”